There will be a referendum on the August 12, 2014 North Crawford School District ballot seeking the authorization to borrow and spend $1.3 million to build a wellness center, following the action of the school board last Thursday.
On the advice of bond attorney Allison Buchanan, who attended the meeting via conference call, the North Crawford School Board approved two resolutions pertaining to the construction of the wellness or fitness center. The first resolution authorized the issuance of general obligation bonds in the amount of $1.3 million for the purpose of constructing a wellness center. A second resolution authorized a referendum to approve the issuance of the bonds.
In the absence of North Crawford School Board President Mary Kuhn, the meeting was initially chaired by school board vice president Tina Volden.
Board member Terry O’Donnell moved to approve the first resolution and board member Aaron Fortney seconded the motion.
Board member Judy Powell questioned what the district knew about the true commitment of Vernon Memorial Healthcare to the wellness or fitness center project. VMH has indicated a willingness to partner with the school on the wellness center and run a community-based fitness center similar to the one they are running in Viroqua currently.
North Crawford and VMH have made plans to have the wellness center available to students, athletes and the general public. VMH would charge fees for the public usage and provide personnel to staff the facility for that purpose as well as equipment maintenance services.
In answer to Powell’s question about VMH’s true commitment to the wellness center, school district administrator Dr. Dan Davies said the agreement was still being worked on by attorneys. He did note that what was known now was what VMH officials talked about at the previous meeting.
“Should we know more details about the agreement with VMH?” board member Jim Dworschack asked.
Powell added that she felt more information about the agreement was needed.
Board member Wade Dull pointed out that by the time the referendum comes up for a vote those details will be known.
Davies went further in explaining what was known about the VMH commitment. He said VMH had proposed a potential contract with North Crawford for three years. The Viroqua-based healthcare provider would evaluate the situation based on the numbers after three years. If it’s sustainable, they will continue and if it represents an ongoing financial loss for them they will not, Davies explained.
With or without VMH operating the community aspect of the wellness center, Davies said the district may decide to operate some aspects of community-oriented service.
“I’m not convinced the school is the right venue to do a $1.3 million project so another entity can come in (and run a fitness center),” Powell said. She called the $1.3 million, a huge amount of money to repay over 20 years.
Fortney saw it differently. He believes constructing the proposed wellness center is “a huge opportunity for the school.”
“I hate to jeopardize the financial soundness of the district with so much unknown,” Powell said.
“This won’t change the budget,” Dull said in response.
“No, but it will change individual budgets,” Powell said.
“Let them (the voters) decide that will tell you,” Dull said.
At that point, local resident Greg Lundberg asked if public input scheduled for later in the meeting could be moved up on the agenda so comments could be taken on the resolutions under consideration and the proposed wellness center.
Board member Terry O’Donnell informed Lundberg that public input had been taken on the wellness center at three or four previous meetings.
“We’re coming to the point where the board has to decide on whether to go to referendum on the wellness center,” O’Donnell said.
With O’Donnell’s comments, the board decided to take a roll call vote on creating the general obligation bonds in the amount of $1.3 million to finance the wellness center. The motion to approve the resolution carried 5-1. With Powell voting against the resolution, Fortney, Dull, Dworschack Volden and O’Donnell voted in favor of it. Kuhn was absent.
On the second resolution to hold a referendum on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 authorizing the borrowing and construction of the wellness center the vote was 4-1 with Powell voting against the measure. Fortney, Dull, Dworschack and O’Donnell voted in favor of it. Volden left the meeting and like Kuhn was now absent for the vote.
After tabling approval of the 2014-15 school calendar and the VMH contract for physicals because neither was ready for action, acting board chairperson Terry O’Donnell decided to allow public input to be moved up among agenda items so Greg Lundberg could speak.
Lundberg began by expressing his concern that the school was getting close to operating a business with the proposed wellness center. He questioned whether a business plan had been done or cost analysis on the project prepared.
O’Donnell responded by saying it was VMH that was interested in expanding their fitness center offerings. He noted it was an option for them to expand.
O’Donnell said VMH was basing it’s analysis on the fitness center they were already operating in Viroqua.
Lundberg asked if a survey had been done to gage potential use.
Dr. Davies said PEP Grant Coordinator Tarasa Lown had done some surveying at school events like the play, concerts and an open house.
O’Donnell pointed out that the plan had also been presented at both Soldiers Grove and Gays Mills village board meetings and met with a favorable response.
Lundberg asked if some of the empty space now available from the Gays Mills redevelopment effort could be used for a fitness center.
Dull explained the PEP Grant that funds most of the equipment for the wellness center mandates it must be located on school property.
“What happens if VMH loses money and pulls out?” Lundberg asked.
Davies recalled former board school board member Michael Bedessem’s idea of using volunteers to keep the wellness center open for the community during certain hours.
Lundberg asked what would happen if the district failed to be able to staff it with volunteers for community access.
Davies replied the facility would still be here for the students and athletes.
Lundberg wondered if the building was not designed to be open to the public, could it be built smaller and at less cost.
Davies allowed that some things could be reduced including shower rooms and another open room.
Lundberg questioned if the district needed a building.
Powell said there was a way to not build anything, but it would involve storing equipment and then installing it for specific application.
Dan Blumer, an architect for HSR that worked with the district on designing the proposed wellness center, thanked the board for moving the project to a referendum.
For his part, although still concerned about the lack of a business plan for the community portion of the wellness center, Lundberg could see that removing the areas mentioned by Davies probably would not reduce the price of the building to under $1 million.
In other business, the North Crawford School Board:
• approved elementary principal Brandon Munson to run the summer rec program
• approved 10 outgoing and nine incoming open enrollment applications
• approved a CESA #3 contract for $31,430 for services to the district after reducing some staff development programs because of time concerns
• agreed to use CESA #2 food service consortium for increased buying power
• decided to raise the middle and high school lunch price from $2.45 to $2.65 next year to stay in line with federally suggested prices
• approved a summer garden club for grades 1-8 to meet Monday and Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m.